We can only make informed decisions if we glean information from our experiences as breeders—including some that are heartbreaking.
The most important dog you own is not the one who won the most ribbons, produced the most champions, or sleeps in your bed. It’s the one who just died of something other than old age, because this is the dog who furthers your knowledge so you can make better choices in your breeding program or caring for your dogs.
Having to have a puppy or young dog euthanized because of a severe health issue is devastating on its own, but the job is not done, even before your tears are dried. Your trauma is compounded by the need to order a necropsy—an examination of the remains—to determine cause of death. When we lose something precious, the legacy can be more than memories.
Nature is not perfect. Many diseases or conditions are the result of spontaneous mutations that occurred during prenatal development. Some of these abnormalities may become hereditary if the corrupted DNA reproduces itself in future generations.
Researchers say mutations are responsible for hereditary kidney problems in some dogs. The failure of the embryonic halves to completely join is another hereditary condition. Cleft palate, liver-shunt problems, heart abnormalities, hydrocephalus, and other issues are miseries we prefer to spare our dogs and ourselves.
There are also congenital abnormalities, spontaneous mistakes that happen during the developmental process. The mystery of two cells—sperm and egg—joining and then dividing to create a fully developed individual involves billions of cells that morph into various organs, muscles, and bodily functions. These “worker cells” can be disrupted during their path to perfection by exposure to environmental hazards or pathogens, or by simple mistakes that just happen, like a hiccup during nature’s delicate balancing act. The results are abnormalities that may kill the unborn, be readily apparent in a newborn, or not be observable for several weeks or months.
We can reduce the incidence of such conditions if we make informed decisions when we breed. We can only make informed decisions if we glean information from our experience.
The postmortem exam, or necropsy, is the visual examination of the exterior and interior of the body after death. We learn the causes of symptoms by viewing and examining the organs that malfunctioned. A puppy whom I recently put down had a false anus with no outlet, and a rectum (lower bowel) with no end; a fistula (opening) had formed between the rectum and the vaginal wall, through which fecal material passed successfully until she was weaned. Because of the fistula, this puppy lived normally for six weeks, then failed precipitously. A necropsy revealed this rare congenital problem, which is seen in small breeds but is not hereditary. Equally important, it assuaged fear that I had failed to recognize a preventable problem.
Some problems may require microscopic examination of tissue samples and/or chemical analysis of blood or body fluids. The added cost of these tests needs to be balanced against the value of the information. Occasionally, the expensive answer is that there is no answer.
If a dog dies at home and you want a necropsy, consult your vet immediately. If you can’t deliver the remains immediately, ask about proper storage. Freezing destroys some evidence, but refrigeration is always necessary.
If you breed long enough, you will see things you never imagined. Grow your experience by learning from heartbreak. —Cassandra de la Rosa, American Lhasa Apso Club